Alumni Spotlight: Amy Emerick Clerkin ’03 on climbing Washington’s ranks

Amy Emerick Clerkin 03 landed a Capitol Hill gig just months after graduation. (Photo courtesy of LegiStorm)

Amy Emerick Clerkin ’03 landed a Capitol Hill gig just months after graduation. (Photo courtesy of LegiStorm)

Amy Emerick Clerkin ’03 has steadily worked her way up through the ranks of the office of Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.). She credits her experience with a Lafayette externship with sealing her dream to work on Capitol Hill.

Clerkin has been a member of Grijalva’s staff since 2003, his first year as a representative in Washington. She landed the staff assistant job just three months after graduating as a Marquis Fellow with a degree in government & law. She held a wide range of titles — including scheduler, communications advisor and deputy chief of staff — before she finally began her tenure as Grijavla’s chief of staff in 2009.

Originally, Clerkin wasn’t certain of her passion for government; she described her interest as “vague.” That vagueness faded the moment she saw government action in person for the first time.

“It was through Lafayette that I got an externship… [with an alumna who] brought me down [to Washington] for a week,” Clerkin said. “I just knew right away from the vibe of the city. I was like, ‘This is the place for me.’” 

“Once I got down here working in Democratic politics, I realized how interested I was in the whole social justice angle, how government can make a difference in people’s lives,” Clerkin said. “I don’t think I understood that … just taking classes at school. I had to come here to see how that actually plays out.”

In Washington, Clerkin likened her day-to-day responsibilities to being a “conductor.” “[I] have to corral the staff and just make sure everything’s running smoothly,” she said. “On a daily basis, I might be doing everything from negotiating a hiring net salary, or I might be negotiating something on my boss’s behalf.”

Clerkin added that some days, she performs more fundamental, general tasks like “ordering supplies on Amazon.” On other days, she has more explicitly politically-oriented duties, such as “approving media budgets for ad buys that we’re going to make.”

Ultimately, Clerkin said her role comes down to “managing staff and budgets and being a liaison for the office.”

Perhaps the biggest lesson Clerkin has learned from her career in Washington is the importance of relationships. Relationships that you have with people open doors here,” she said. And it’s just a good way to get things done: to be out there meeting people and forming connections.”

Lafayette connections have remained with Clerkin throughout her career.

“There’s a strong little [Lafayette] community down here [in Washington]. I think the connections last a long time because Lafayette kind of … encourage[s] it,” Clerkin said. “I know tons of other people who went to big schools, and they’re like, ‘I could never call up some random alumni,’ and I’m like, ‘I would.’ I would just call them and say, ‘Hey, I went to Lafayette, graduated this year,’ and I guarantee they would make time for me.”

Correction 02/13/23: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Clerkin served as Grijalva’s chief of staff since 2011. She has served as his chief of staff since 2009.